- The Washington Times - Monday, December 22, 2003

CHICAGO — Up and down the visiting sideline at the space-age new Soldier Field, the Washington Redskins were convinced they were headed for overtime.

Sure, the Bears’ Paul Edinger was only a few feet away, lining up for a game-winning 45-yard field goal attempt. But considering Edinger’s previous follies trying to kick into a stiff Chicago wind, the Redskins had reason to believe yesterday’s game was about to be extended.

Of course, the Redskins have had reason to believe a lot of things during this season of never-ending turmoil. So when Edinger’s kick floated ever-so-gently through the uprights, giving the Bears a 27-24 victory, Washington probably should have seen it coming.

Does anyone expect something other than heartache for this team?

“It’s just so frustrating for us, because we feel like we’re so close,” quarterback Tim Hasselbeck said following the Redskins’ sixth loss by four points or less. “We’ve had a bunch of close games, and to not win them … it’s frustrating.”

Whether Washington (5-10) really is that close to achieving success is debatable. A loss Saturday night to the first-place Eagles would ensure the franchise’s worst record in nine years.

What is certain is this: put the Redskins in a tight game, and they will find a way to lose.

“That tells you the whole story of the season: so close, and yet so far away,” cornerback Fred Smoot said. “You’ve got to finish it. If you don’t finish it, you’re going to be left there to bleed.”

The Redskins were left licking their wounds yet again yesterday, this time after allowing the hapless Bears offense to run all over them and snatch victory from their hands. Chicago (7-8), owner of the NFL’s lowest-ranked offense, piled up 429 yards (249 in the second half alone) and never gave Washington a chance to take the game back.

Edinger’s gutsy kick with five seconds to play was the clincher, but it never would have happened if the Bears didn’t wear down the Redskins’ defense in the second half.

Washington took a 17-10 lead and a slight advantage in time of possession into the third quarter, but that changed in a hurry. The Bears, behind rookie quarterback Rex Grossman and third-year tailback Anthony Thomas, took over the game.

Chicago had just four offensive possessions in the second half and all went for 51 yards or more and each lasted at least 4:43. Only one didn’t result in a score.

The Redskins, meanwhile, got the ball only three times in the half. They managed one quick touchdown drive, but punted the other two times. The offense spent the majority of the afternoon seated on the heated benches.

“This was a game that they made a ton of third downs [nine, to Washingtons one],” coach Steve Spurrier said. “We couldn’t stay on the field, and we couldn’t get them off the field, and their guy finally made a field goal. That’s the way it went.”

As predictable as the outcome was, it didn’t appear it would end that way. The Redskins, coming off a humiliating shutout loss to the Cowboys, scored 17 first-half points by reaching into their old bag of tricks.

With the wind wreaking havoc on the passing game — Hasselbeck misfired on his first six attempts — Spurrier decided to put the ball in Rod Gardner’s hands. It didn’t matter that Gardner is a wide receiver.

Gardner, in an exact replica of the game-winning play against Seattle six weeks ago, took a lateral from Hasselbeck, then fired back across the field to a wide-open Chad Morton who hauled in the pass and cruised into the end zone. The score tied the game at 10-10 late in the first quarter.

Later, the Redskins found themselves facing second-and-12 at the Chicago 14, and Spurrier called Gardner’s number again. This time, he threw to Hasselbeck in the end zone. The quarterback tried to cradle the ball before it hit the ground, but officials ruled it incomplete and a subsequent review upheld the call.

“I thought I caught it,” Hasselbeck said. “I had my hands under it, and I didn’t feel the ball move at all.”

Washington ultimately didn’t have reason to question the call, because on the next play from scrimmage, Hasselbeck hit Laveranues Coles on a skinny-post route for a 14-yard touchdown.

The Redskins had a 17-10 lead at the half, but the Bears took over in the second half.

With successive drives that lasted 6:37 and 6:41, Chicago barreled through Washington’s porous run defense. Grossman, who finished with 249 yards passing in his second career start, tossed an 11-yard touchdown pass to receiver Justin Gage for the first score. Thomas, who finished with 141 yards on 32 rushes, capped the second drive with a 3-yard run.

In between, the Redskins ran three offensive plays — all failed pass attempts.

“Any time you get a team who has the ball for a whole quarter, it’s hard,” Coles said. “Our defense stayed on the field too long. They had a lot of plays, and it took up a lot of the clock. You have to give a lot of credit to Chicago.”

The Bears stuck to the same strategy on their game-winning drive. When guard Derrick Dockery was flagged for a false start on fourth-and-1, the Redskins had no choice but to punt. Chicago took over at its 21 with 5:12 to play, then used 13 plays and ran the clock down to 10 seconds before sending Edinger out.

The Bears kicker already missed two earlier field-goal attempts, but he nailed the 45-yarder as the astonished Redskins looked on.

“I did not expect that guy to make it,” defensive end Renaldo Wynn said. “He hadn’t been looking good all game. But I guess when it counted, he made it.”

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